What is an Analytical Outline?
An analytical outline is a way of displaying a text of Scripture so that the flow of thought and the relationship between the grammatical parts become clear.
An analytical outline does not rephrase the text. It breaks it into thoughts and indents phrases onto separate lines to highlight the relationship between them. The purpose of an analytical outline is to help you see how ideas fit together.
Making an analytical outline causes you to slow down and carefully observe the text, and it forces you to recognize interpretive options you might otherwise have missed.
There are no right or wrong ways to do analytical outlines.
Analytical outlines are meant to help you better understand how the text fits together grammatically. Your outline should reflect a method that helps you. Different people may have different ways of doing analytical outlines. The specific guidelines that follow are to get you started. If you can improve this method to make it more helpful to you and others, please do so!
An analytical outline is not the same thing as an interpretation. Rather, it is a tool. The grammatical structure of a text gives you lots of clues to what the author meant to say. However, the grammatical structure is not always identical to the meaning.
Analytical outlines can be very valuable. If your understanding of a passage cannot explain the grammatical structure of the text, then your understanding is probably wrong. The meaning of the text comes out of the words. If there were no words, there would be no meaning. Keep honing your understanding until it fits with the grammatical structure.
Remember, language is very flexible. There are so many different ways to communicate an idea that it is impossible to come up with a rigorous scheme for them all. Instead, we use a number of guidelines that work in most cases. If you encounter passages that are hard to outline, don’t worry too much about it. But do work to develop a consistent approach to everything you encounter.
- Divide the whole text into passages. Work on one passage at a time.
- Start main (independent) sentences at the left margin.
- Put modifying (dependent) phrases or clauses under the words they modify.
- Make the parallel phrases obvious. If necessary, connect them with lines.
- Place lists of qualities, actions, etc. in vertical columns.
Making the Most of an Analytical Outline
- Look for different interpretive options as you write your outline. Each time you put a phrase under a word, ask yourself if it could go under anything else. These different possibilities may open up new ways of seeing the passage, and perhaps a new understanding of what the author means.
- Watch for repeated words or phrases.
- Distinguish main statements from explanations, modifying clauses, and rabbit-trails.
- Identify crucial words of the text for later word studies.
- As you outline, create a list of questions to be answered as you study.
- The New American Standard Bible is closest to the grammar of the original languages and therefore one of the best versions to use when making an analytical outline.
- Use color to help you see related ideas and connections. The color scheme I’ve adopted is:
Purple Bold – Major conjunctions and transitions
Purple text – minor conjunctions and transitional phrases
Black Bold – names and places
Red underline – section theme (may also be imperative)
blue text – phrases modifying the section theme
orange text – conclusions from section theme
green underline – commands/imperatives
Pink – interesting pronouns
Yellow Highlight – repeated phrase/idea
Specific Guidelines for an Analytical Outline
- Start the first sentence of a passage at the left margin.
- If the first sentence begins with “and”, “but”, etc. put it in the middle of the line by itself, then start at the left margin continuing as normal.
- If the first sentence introduces the book, put the author, the recipient and the word(s) of greeting all out to the left margin.
- If the first sentence is a command, put the command verb at the left margin. (It’s okay to change the word order.)
- If the first sentence begins a command passage, put each command at the left margin.
- If there are two or more prepositional phrases modifying one word or phrase, indent them underneath the phrase.
- If the prepositional phrase is a relative clause, indent the relative under the word or phrase it modifies.
- Indent participles under the main verb they modify.
- Indent appositional phrases under the word they modify.
- Indent explanatory sentences (“for”, etc.) under the word or phrase they explain. Do the same for causal sentences (“since,” “because”, etc.), purpose sentences (“in order that”, etc.) and other related statements.
- In any list of two or more similar parts of speech, write them in parallel under one another.
- If the sentence resumes following a list, continue it on the last item on the same line.
- Place major logical conjunctions (“therefore,” etc.) and independent questions in the middle of the line in all capital letters
- Put important connectives at the beginning of a line with any corresponding parts lining up in parallel.
- When an author begins a transitional sentence, indent it under the point of transition.
Download an example Analytical Outline of Philippians
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Part of the Series: Bible Study 101
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